Last Friday, I was privileged to attend the official launch of National School Choice Week at the historic Florida Theatre in Jacksonville, Fla. Along with a capacity crowd of 1,900 other students, parents, teachers, community leaders and education advocates, we kicked off what is certain to be the largest celebration of school choice in history.
The gathering united students who benefit from every kind of educational option available—traditional public, charter, magnet, private, online and at home—with some special celebrities and public icons who came to lend their support to the cause.
Heisman Trophy winner, former NFL athlete and ESPN personality Desmond Howard said when he graduated high school more than 20 years ago, he didn’t consider the significance of reaching such a milestone.
“Every 30 seconds, somewhere in our country, a child drops out of school. That’s not acceptable, and that’s why I’m here today,” Howard told the audience. “National School Choice Week celebrates the power of choice, the belief that every educational opportunity should be afforded to every child, no matter their zip code, no matter their family’s income, no matter what.”
The Rev. H. K. Matthews, 87, who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., 50 years ago, said today’s movement for school choice shares significant parallels with the fight for equal voting rights.
“We were marching for empowerment on that bridge that day,” said Rev. Matthews, referring to one of the greatest icons of the Civil Rights movement. “Those of us who are gathered in this room today are gathered here because we want empowerment; we want to be able to choose where we go to school. It’s as simple as that.”
While this week’s focus is on children, Florida’s Teacher of the Year, Christie Bassett, revealed another beneficiary of school choice I never considered: teachers!
“When families have more educational options at their disposal, teachers can access a greater variety of professional opportunities that best suit their strengths as educators,” Bassett explained.
It makes perfect sense to me. Just like every child is unique in their educational needs, teachers are just as unique in their own right. When teachers can play to their strengths in the classroom, students everywhere win.
Democratic strategist and Fox News contributor Joe Trippi said he is convinced his life would have turned out much differently, had his working-class mom not fought for him to attend a better public school than the failing public school to which he was assigned.
“All these years later, the one thing I can hope all of us can agree with is that regardless of party, the status quo is not working,” Trippi said. “National School Choice Week invites everyone to put politics and ideology aside, and fight and focus on solutions.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to the issue of school choice, not everyone is able to set aside their political or economic interests. Lawsuits challenging school choice programs have been filed. Local and state policymakers routinely block or interfere with the creation or expansion of choice in education.
Meanwhile, kids and families sit on waiting lists or place their dreams for a better education on hold.
That is why National School Choice Week is so important!
If you benefited from school choice, share your story. If you love the school your child attends, let others know. And if you value having choices in education, be sure to inform your local and state officials. They can never be reminded too often of how vital and critical choices in education are to ensuring every child has access to a quality education.
About the author
Kate Wallace @kstreetfla
Kate serves as the Director of Community Engagement (North Florida) for the Foundation for Florida's Future (AFloridaPromise). Prior to joining AFloridaPromise, Kate served as Legislative Coordinator for The Fiorentino Group, a Florida government affairs firm based in Jacksonville. Previously, Kate served as government affairs assistant for the Washington office of Triadvocates, an Arizona government relations firm, and as staff assistant for the Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., federal government relations office. As a college student, Kate interned for the White House in Vice President Dick Cheney’s Office of Domestic Policy and for former Florida Congressman Adam Putnam’s Capitol Hill office. A central Florida native, Kate graduated from University of Florida in 2007 with a B.S. in Public Relations. Contact Kate at Kate@aFloridaPromise.org.